Tuesday, August 11, 2009 by Paul Grech
By all accounts, this summer's trip to South East Asia was a huge success with particular attention being given to building a relationship with the fans over there. It is an encouraging sign, one that shows that these aren't trips made exclusively to make money in the short term - although, admittedly, that is a huge plus - but also at ensuring that the right things are done to build Liverpool's reputation in the area.
It is something - really establishing a foothold in Asia - that many have tried to do in the past and failed. Liverpool are taking a slightly different approach both in the manner in which they planned out this trip but also in other ventures that they're putting in place in the area. This is typified by the football centre that the club set up in India in a tie-up with the Abhijeet Kadam Memorial Foundation.
The 'Abhijit Kadam Football Development Centre', to be based within the campus of Bharati Vidyapeeth University here, is aimed at allowing aspiring young footballers combine their studies with football under the guidance of Liverpool FC coaches. The students enrolled at the centre will be taught a number of football related courses, which are to be delivered in partnership with some leading colleges in United Kingdom.
It is a bold move by Liverpool, one where they are being aided by a company called Kickworldwide which, according to its website, "export and internationally exploit soccer brands in emerging football markets". We spoke to Steve Bellis, a director at Kickworldwide about this initiative and what makes it so special.
How did this venture start out?
The Football Development Centre concept was originated by myself in 2003 during one of many visits to China. It was clear there, as it is in India, that developing countries (in football terms) need much more than just academies to develop the game to the highest level, they need a fully industry infrastructure. The FDC aims to assist with the creation and sustainability of that infrastructure. The key of course is to find a like minded Football brand who genuinely cares about football development and has a long term approach to developing markets like China and India. Liverpool are the perfect partner because of their attitude to the game and its supporters
What will it involve?
The FDC will have an academy where boys with real talent can develop their game under the guidance of LFC coaches but those that fail to make the grade (and we all know how high that percentage is likely to be) will be given the opportunity to stay in the game by developing a career in one of the following faculties: Coaching, Refereeing, Sports Science, Sports Turf, Football Industry Management and Sports Law.
What will be the extent of Liverpool's involvement? Are they simply lending their 'name'?
Whilst the Liverpool brand is obviously important, the club is doing much more than simply lending its brand. LFC coaches will oversee the academy and audit all football content.
What is so special about the whole venture? Has anything like this been done before?
The venture is unique. Lots of the world’s top clubs have set up academies in developing countries but no club has become part of such a comprehensive centre that aims to create industry professionals for the long term benefit of that particular country.
Many clubs have embarked on trips in Asia but few have made a lasting impact. Do you think this will help change the situation?
Too many clubs have demonstrated a short term approach and the Asian market is sophisticated enough to see through this. Hopefully this project will set Liverpool out as a club that is demonstrating a sincere, long term and responsible attitude to one of the world’s biggest growth markets for football.
Similarly, there is the perception that India is more of a 'cricket' country. How accurate, or not, is this idea?
Cricket is without doubt the major sport in India but in terms of participation, football is huge. There are third tier cities like Kholapur in Maharashtra that get more than 40,000 paying fans to watch an amateur final. Major games in Kolkata regularly attract more than 100,000 fans. The problem is that India does not have a football icon as they do in cricket. We are currently working on another project with Liverpool that will assist in the creation of those icons.
How will the venture's success be measured? What are you and Liverpool looking for?
Initially the centre will be measured by the outputs in terms of all the courses. It is hoped that a large number of the students will be able to continue with their respective studies in the UK and the n return to India with the knowledge to enhance the football infrastructure. It is also possible that the centre could unearth some exciting on field talent but we have to be realistic about that. One important issue for the club is that the FDC is something real and tangible that ordinary people in India can visit and touch. It is a real extension of the LFC brand giving supporters in India the opportunity to interact with the club especially when the LFC coaches are in town. All of the partners are in this for the long term and are certainly not interested in any short term financial gain. As for Kickworldwide, we want to develop a reputation as a genuine organization that can offer real assistance in the development of football in emerging markets and can offer life changing opportunities for a number of talented young footballers.
Are there more such ventures planned for the future?
We are already at an advanced stage of negotiations in China, again with Liverpool FC. This should be announced in January 2010. The grand launch of the India centre, when students will commence their studies will be in September of this year.